The 390th Memorial at the Pima Air & Space Museum
Honoring Courage and Sacrifice
Sixty-five years ago, the men of the 390th Bombardment Group, an Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress unit stationed in England, created a place in world history. The B-17s flown by the 390th bombed the coast of Normandy before the ground landings; cut German supply lines during the Battle of the Bulge; dropped food supplies to the Dutch the week before Victory in Europe Day and transported prisoners of war back to their homeland. From 1943–1945, the group flew 301 combat missions over Europe with a loss of 181 aircraft. 714 men sacrificed their life during the war while 731 men were captured and held as POWs. Most of these men were only in their teens or twenties.
The 390th received the Presidential Unit Citation for the Schweinfurt mission on October 14, 1943. The Group also shared in the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the 3rd Bomb Division for the part it played in the mission to Regensburg on August 17, 1943. In addition, the Group established a record for enemy aircraft destroyed by any one group on any one mission by destroying sixty-two at Muenster on October 10, 1943. On this same mission the crew of Cabin In The Sky, a 571st Squadron aircraft, shot down eleven enemy aircraft. In total, the 390th destroyed 377 enemy aircraft and recorded fifty-seven “probable damages” and seventy-seven damaged. They were never turned back by the enemy.
Preserving the Human Experience of World War II
According to the National WWII Museum, “Every 90 seconds a memory of WWII, its sights and sounds, its terrors and triumphs, disappears.” The WWII generation is quickly fading but their stories remain meaningful to all generations. That is why the 390th Memorial Museum in Tucson has taken on the urgent task of preserving the history of World War II airmen.
The museum’s large collection of oral histories, thousands of historical documents and photographs covering everything from crews to POW and Holocaust camp liberations allows it to present an “Everyman” view of the Air War in Europe. These stories don’t just educate, they challenge. Enduring when you want to quit and caring about community more than self are just some of the lessons we preserve so that this generation may be inspired to become the next greatest generation.
Location in Tucson
Colonel Joseph Moller, the third commander of the 390th Bomb Group, moved to Arizona at the end of WWII and eventually became Commander of Air Force Reserves at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (D-M AFB). Moller maintained a friendship with General Curtis LeMay, Commander of Strategic Air Command and when a new Missile Wing was established at D-M AFB in the early 1960s, the 390th BG number was officially reactivated and given to the Missile Wing. In the late 1970s, an idea was conceived for a Heritage Museum on D-M AFB combining the 390th Bombardment Group and the 390th Strategic Missile Wing. In early 1980 a B-17 Flying Fortress was secured from the National Air Force Museum and arrived at the base. Unfortunately soon after, the Missile Wing was notified it was to be deactivated and the Heritage Museum was no longer allowed to be on D-M AFB. Instead, a civilian museum was founded on Pima Air Museum grounds.
390th Memorial Museum Features
The 390th Memorial Museum is a private, non-profit museum located on the grounds of the Pima Air & Space Museum. The museum houses a restored B-17G called “I’ll Be Around.” Visitors can look inside the historic aircraft and see the tight spaces the crew occupied inside a bomber that had no insulation and few safety measures. Also on display are a Norden Bomb Site, General Doolittle exhibit and the first flag ashore on Utah Beach during the D-Day Invasion. In addition to memorabilia and artifacts, the 390th Memorial Museum houses the “Top Cover for the J Group” mural based on one of the most recognized photographs of WWII. The museum also contains a private research library focused on the Air Campaign of Central Europe. The library is named after Colonel Joseph A. Moller, the third group commander of the 390th Bomb Group during WWII, an honorary graduate of the Air Force Academy (1989) and a member of the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame.
“I’ll Be Around”: The Adventures of a B-17
The B-17G-110-VE 44-85828 (#828), which came to be known as “I’ll Be Around,” was one of the last B-17s produced by the Vega Division of Lockheed (LINK). Unfortunately, she was produced at a time when the Army (LINK) had more B-17s than it could use. #828 was placed into AAF storage, but the rest was brief. In 1945, she became one of seventeen fortresses transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard for long range patrol and air-sea rescue duty.
During the mid 1950s she was seen in Seattle at the Boeing (LINK) plant, where she was equipped with a special nine lens camera for photomapping work. In October 1958 she received the distinction of becoming the last official manned U.S. military-operated B-17. It is reported that her last mission terminated in San Diego, California. She was stored in Litchfield Park Naval Air Facility in Arizona during April of 1969 and sold to a surplus buyer thought to be National Metals of Maricopa County.
In 1962, she was purchased by Ray Elgin and Arnold Kolb to form Aero-Elite and converted to a civilian air tanker for the purpose of fighting fires. #828 operated as tanker #830 based in Cody, Wyoming. In 1976, she became Tanker 37 for Bruce Kinney Aviation in Richey, Montana.
Her final duties as an aerial firefighter were with Globe Aviation of Mesa, Arizona from 1978 to 1980. In 1980 she was traded to the U.S.A.F. museum where she once again became B-17G-110-VE 44-85828. Her current home is in Tucson as the centerpiece of the 390th Memorial Museum.